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Teachers union declines to make endorsement in race for governor

The largest teachers union in Nevada announced Tuesday that it would not make an endorsement in the gubernatorial race between Gov. Steve Sisolak and Sheriff Joe Lombardo.

The Clark County Education Association endorsed Sisolak in his first bid for governor four years ago but said Tuesday it could not endorse the Democratic incumbent for re-election. The union represents more than 18,000 educators in Clark County.

Executive Director John Vellardita told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the teachers union viewed its endorsement as a referendum on Sisolak’s four years in office, rather than a choice between two candidates.

Vellardita referenced several concerns that have plagued the Clark County School District this year, including large class sizes, rising instances of violence in schools and a “crisis level” teacher vacancy rate that the union says has left 32,000 students without a full-time educator.

“What we know is these kinds of issues cannot be solved at the school district level. They require a partnership between the state and school districts,” Vellardita said. “We didn’t see that with this governor.”

Reeves Oyster, a spokesperson for Sisolak, called attention to the governor’s steps to fund schools “at their highest levels ever” without raising taxes on everyday Nevadans.

Last year, Sisolak also helped shepherd through legislation that overhauled taxes on the mining industry, generating hundreds of millions of dollars for education.

“While Joe Lombardo wants to strip up to $300 million from our schools, put guns in the classroom and said ‘I don’t know’ when asked if schools were underfunded on the campaign trail, Governor Sisolak is committed to building on his progress in a second term by lowering classroom sizes, giving teachers another raise, expanding opportunities for teacher licensure and identifying pathways for universal Pre-K,” Oyster said in a written statement.

The union said in a statement Tuesday that its executive board interviewed Sisolak and his Republican challenger multiple times.

Vellardita said the union arrived at its decision in part because of Sisolak’s response to a question about how the governor would respond to anticipated recommendations from the Commission on School Funding about generating the needed amount of revenue for K-12 schools.

“He fell short on any kind of adequate or meaningful answer to us,” Vellardita said. “We got a campaign promise. ‘We’ll look at it.’ That’s not acceptable.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Lombardo called the union’s refusal to endorse Sisolak confirmation that Sisolak “has failed our teachers and students.”

“Unlike Steve Sisolak, Sheriff Joe Lombardo has a plan to fix Nevada’s broken education system, and he will immediately work to bring safety, accountability, and empowerment to our schools,” spokesperson Elizabeth Ray wrote in a statement.

Contact Lorraine Longhi at 702-387-5298 or llonghi@reviewjournal.com. Follow her at @lolonghi on Twitter.

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